When your baby hits four or five months of age, it’s time to start thinking about introducing solid food. But because the rules for what to offer and when to do it have changed so dramatically, even in the past few years, you can’t necessarily depend on your mom or friends with older kids for guidance. Myths about feeding baby solids abound, so we asked experts to separate fact from fiction.
Myth #1: If your baby is reaching for your food, she’s ready to start solids.
Fact: Babies as young as three months may look longingly at their parents’ meals and even reach for something off their plates. But that’s only one of many signs of readiness, says Catherine Pound, a paediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. “Your child should be showing interest in food, but also be able to sit up on their own and keep their head up, and have the coordination to chew and swallow,” she says. Age is another important factor. Both the Canadian Paediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend introducing solids around the age of six months (give or take a few weeks, based on readiness), alongside breastmilk or formula.
Myth #2: There is one correct food to give first.
Fact: There are two main reasons to start your baby on solids, says Pound: to develop her oral motor skills in preparation for exclusively eating solid food and to boost her iron intake (her body’s iron stores are no longer sufficient around the six-month mark). The type of food is irrelevant, Pound says, as long as it contains iron. Calgary-based registered dietitian Sarah Remmer recommends finely minced, ground or mashed cooked meat, deboned fish, cooked egg, beans and lentils as first foods. You can also start with an iron-fortified infant cereal. If you do, there’s no reason to stick to the rice variety alone, notes Remmer. “Iron-fortified cereals don’t differ drastically when it comes to nutrients. They are all fortified with similar amounts of iron.”
Myth #3: You should start with thin purées.
Fact: There’s no need to serve your little one super-blitzed mush if you’re beginning solids at six months, says Remmer. At that age, babies have the ability to “munch” food—even if they don’t have teeth. You can offer purées, but you should also let your baby practise noshing on her own. Try any of the foods Remmer suggests above, in addition to tender-cooked vegetables and grated cheese. “Offering soft finger foods will encourage self-feeding, which helps with oral motor development,” she says. “It allows babies to be in control of how much and at what pace they eat, which will help with self-regulation of food intake later on.” Avoid choking hazards such as hard and stringy vegetables and fruits; small round-shaped foods, like grapes, that aren’t sliced lengthwise; sticky foods, such as peanut butter, on their own; popcorn; marshmallows; whole nuts and seeds; fish with bones; and unsliced hot dogs and sausages.
Don’t panic: Even with soft finger foods, your baby will gag—a lot. “Babies have a great natural gag reflex that helps them move food that has travelled too far to the back of their mouths to the front again so they don’t choke,” Remmer explains. While choking is rare, it doesn’t hurt to take a first-aid course before feeding baby solids, just in case.
Myth #4: It’s best to start with bland foods.
Fact: Flavour is a good thing. “It’s important that babies are introduced to a wide variety of flavours and textures by about nine months of age, because it increases the chances that they’ll accept a wide variety of foods later on,” says Remmer. So add a dash of cinnamon to cereal or some cumin to carrots. Just stay away from added sugar and salt.
Myth #5: You should delay introducing peanuts to prevent an allergy from developing.
Fact: The big news out of the food allergy world, notes Adelle Atkinson, an immunologist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, is that the 2015 Learning Early About Peanut Allergy study found that for kids who are at high risk of developing allergies, introducing peanuts as early as possible led to a decrease in the incidence of peanut allergy. Guidelines released just this year by the National Institutes of Health say the same. Instead of feeding baby whole nuts, which are choking hazards for babies, Toronto registered dietitian Cara Rosenbloom suggests serving peanut butter by mixing a teaspoon into plain yogurt or sprinkling crushed peanuts on top of applesauce.
Whatever you do, don’t stress if your six-month-old doesn’t take to food right away. Stop for a bit and come back to it. The last thing you want is a pint-sized power struggle.